Twelve years have passed since two 20-something sisters died in a rented PT Cruiser that had an open recall for a defective power-steering hose. At the time, the Budgets, Enterprises and Hertzes of the United States were not required to repair vehicles in their fleets prior to leasing them.
That changed June 1, when federal legislation went into effect mandating such repairs be made before equipping unsuspecting drivers with potential deathtraps.
The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2015 sets forth that “a rental company that receives a notification (approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) from the manufacturer of a covered rental vehicle about any equipment defect, or noncompliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards, to rent or sell the vehicle or equipment only if the defect or noncompliance is remedied.”
The law was inspired by Cally Houck, the mother of 24-year-old Raechel Houck and 20-year-old Jacqueline Houck. The women had rented the car from Enterprise in San Francisco to visit her in Ventura. On their return trip north, they were killed instantly when the vehicle burst into flames, filled up with smoke and crashed into a semitruck on Highway 101 in Monterey County.
“We were shocked that there was no regulation to prohibit renting out this kind of vehicle,” Houck told CNN Money in a story titled “Rental companies now have to repair recalled cars.”
She sued Enterprise, and the company eventually admitted negligence and paid a reported $15 million in damages to the family.
“Within a month following the crash, we learned that the vehicle rented to my daughters…was recalled,” Houck told AlertDriving’s Fleet Alert magazine in a story titled “Enterprise Rent-A-Car Admits Negligence In Crash That Killed Santa Cruz Sisters.” “After digging further, their dad Chuck discovered that the recall had not been resolved and the repairs were never made.”
The PT Cruiser in question had been rented three times since the recall was issued; the Houck sisters were the fourth customers. The problem, as described by DaimlerChrysler, involved the power-steering hose coming into contact with the transaxle differential cover. Contact could result in a steering-fluid leak under and spark a fire, which is exactly what happened Oct. 7, 2004.
Rosemary Shahan, who heads the national nonprofit Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, said the new law has a loophole that exempts rental-car companies with fewer than 35 vehicles on their lots.
Rental-car customers can get recall information on vehicles by using the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s vehicle-identification tool.